//CGCS Presents this week’s Media Law Round Up – a collection of stories that developed over the week dealing with International Media Law & Policy, Freedoms of Speech, Information and Expression, Censorship, Privacy and all things Web 2.0.
//This week, the RoundUp comes from CGCS Media Wire Editor Corey H. Abramson who provides a recap of the 2012 Internet Governance Forum in controversial Azerbaijan which has recently come under EU and PACE criticism for human rights violations.
The Internet Governance Forum, 2012 in Baku
Over the past three days, Information Communications Technology policymakers and industry leaders gathered together in Baku for the Internet Governance Forum – an annual meeting of the movers and shakers in the telecommunications field brought together by the UN. Unlike many other events sponsored by the United Nations, the Annual IGF is open to more than just government representation – perhaps a step in the right direction to understanding what Global Voices Online calls “governance issues ranging from policing, to access, to content management, to freedom of expression online.”
Those in attendance this year span government officials, ICT company representation, NGO’s and media-minded scholars and journalists to accurately reflect a slow but steady shift in attitudes towards internet governance. Issues discussed at this years’ IGF include censorship, privacy, copyright, online activism, cyber security, national ICT policies and the sovereignty (read: definition or mutual understanding) of cyberspace.
Global Voices Online’s Netizen Report highlights aspects from each panel discussion by topic, with an equal spread of corporate and national interests represented.
This year the 7th annual IGF, is being held in controversial Azerbaijan, a former soviet republic with a long reputation of shrugging off many of the underlying issues behind the topics discussed like human rights issues such as free speech, information and the press despite international obligations to protect them.
Hacked Laptops in Reaction to Criticism of the Host Country?
During the forum, the laptops of two EU officials “[were] apparently hacked in Azerbaijan,” writes ZDNet.com’s David Meyer. The victims of the cyber attack were a spokesman for the digital agenda commissioner, Neeli Kroes as well as one of her policy advisers.
The attacks came right after Kroes openly criticized Azerbaijani treatment of social and internet freedom activists, journalists and netizens at large:
“In this very country (Azerbaijan), we see many arbitrary restrictions on the media,” Kroes said. “We see the exercise of free speech effectively criminalized. We see violent attacks on journalists. And we see activists spied on online, violating the privacy of journalists and their sources. I condemn this. The restrictions must end.”
“To deprive of human rights not just journalists and bloggers, not just their sources – but the citizens who have a right to know the truth is not acceptable. And it will not serve the economic growth of the country. A free internet, a free country is also the path to a more prosperous future,”added Kroes who previously said, “Everyone with a mobile could be a journalist.”
Kroes is referring to last year’s European Commission’s ‘No Disconnect’ strategy (which you can read about on her blog at the European Commission webiste), which involves giving online activists “technological tools… that help journalists avoid surveillance and safeguard their right to privacy”.
New Europe Online elaborates, “This will be achieved through the promotion of technologies that help journalists avoid surveillance and ensure privacy, the necessary funding to fight cyber-censorship, under the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights and the certainty that EU companies are aware of the human rights implications of the technologies they sell.”
Free Speech and Protest Limited Offline As Well
The Human Rights Watch report says that since early 2006, Azerbaijani authorities have not authorized a single opposition protest in the center of Baku, instead forcing all demonstrations into designated zones on the outskirts of the capital.
In October, over two hundred youth activists, journalists and citizens “affiliated with opposition political parties and independent civil society” tried to organize a rally in Baku, attempting to shed light on recent evidence of bribery and corruption in a 2005 parliamentary election. Their peaceful efforts were matched with “uniformed police and security officials in civilian clothes” grabbing activists, covering their mouths, and forcing them into nearby police buses.
As party to the European Convention on Human Rights, Azerbaijan has an international commitment to protecting freedom of assembly and expression, something the European Court of Human Rights has ensured is not to be taken lightly. Banning protests in major cities, breaking them up with force and limiting publication about the events themselves go in stark contrast to the country’s obligations to protect certain freedoms.
PACE, Political Prisoners and the Future
January 2013 was supposed to see a twofold report by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to define and recognize the term ‘political prisoner’ officially, and to call attention to Azerbaijani detention of said detainees.
Naturally, representatives of Azerbaijan were upset for being singled out in the report and the mandates were merged. The name of the joint report was changed to “Revisiting the issue of political prisoners, ” as a compromise with the Azerbaijani delegation.
“It almost looked like Baku’s efforts to neutralize the report on Azerbaijan’s political prisoners succeeded, but authorities took a step too far,” writes Joanna Smętek for Europe of Human Rights, when denying a key investigator “…a visa which he needed to conduct a fact finding mission. Azerbaijan’s move backfired, the mandates were split again and, despite all the efforts, Azerbaijan’s name is now singled out again. On 3 October 2012 the first resolution on the definition of political prisoner was tabled for vote at the plenary session of PACE and, by a thin margin, passed.”
“Azerbaijan was doing all it could to prevent the adoption of the definition of political prisoner, even though this was not directed against any one country,” and Ms Schuster from Germany – “lobbying in this case by Azerbaijan had been unmatched in its brazenness.”
The Media Wire will continue to follow the PACE definitions of political prisoners, coverage of IGF 2012, and the status of freedoms and human rights in Azerbaijan as the stories develop. We look forward to your input, comments and suggestions.
// Corey H. Abramson sits as the current Media and Policy Fellow, working as an intern for the Center for Global Communication Studies at The Annenberg School for Communication. His main areas of interest are ‘new media’ literacy, digital nativity, internet policies on freedoms of expression & speech, and privacy.
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